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John Hayes
By
June 25, 2015

Are you Still Using Offline Tactics to Capture an Online Audience? The Higher Education Example.

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There’s often a mismatch between where engineering marketers allocate their budgets and where their audience is.  This chart is from one of my favorite analysts, Mary Meeker. It shows that the amount of time US adults spend online has more than doubled since 2008. 

Time spent with digital media 2008-205 statistics

 

Many engineering marketers have not moved their budgets to keep up with their audience as it moves online. In this blog post I’ll explore how this shift in audience is impacting one segment of our customers – higher education marketers who target engineers.  Perhaps it will spark some thought about how you allocate your engineering marketing budget.

Grad programs are pitching online services to engineers

According to a recent report, 66 percent of chief academic leaders say online learning is critical to their long-term strategy.  That figure jibes with what we are seeing.  The landscape for online Master’s of Engineering degrees is becoming ever more competitive as new entrants take to the field.

In order to be more attractive, another study from Hanover Research points out that colleges and universities are appointing Chief Marketing Officers who are ramping up branding efforts and aggressively recruiting foreign students.  As a result, international student enrolment in the US for the 2012-13 school year was up 10 percent over the prior year.

Delivering new products (online degrees) to new markets (international students) is a daunting challenge for any engineering marketer.  So it is no wonder that the marketing efforts are not quite keeping up with the shift to digital.

Online Master’s programs are struggling in recruitment

The predominant recruiting techniques, according to this same study, are Campus open house events and Campus visit days.  These techniques are targeted at local prospects.  Our research shows that this can work for local Master’s programs since students do tend to return to their undergraduate school or to a program that is based in the city where they work.

Online programs must cast a much wider net.  Marketers for these programs struggle to find strong digital media outlets.  Instead, they spend a lot of their budget on search marketing.  They are also actively using social media.  Here is a chart of their increased use of social media for all colleges and universities.  

Trends in social media usage in marketing among U.S. colleges and universities 2008 to 2011

 

How to brand an online education program to a new target market

One of the challenges with using digital media to recruit is that schools need to have brand presence, particularly if they are recruiting foreign students.  That means running branding campaigns on the Internet sites where engineers are likely to visit

And if schools are using social media, they will need good stories to tell.  We have found that sponsored stories have become increasingly important tools for digital marketing to engineers of all industries, including higher education. This trend towards hiring publications to tell branded stories can address the problem of finding good content creators while also leveraging the publication’s credibility and audience.

And of course, services that deliver relevant leads for online engineering programs are increasingly valuable as well.

Balancing the marketing budget between online and offline activities

For marketers outside of higher education, an increasing share of your target audience is now primarily digital.  Your boss may say, “We are targeting the decision makers who are over 50 years old and read magazines.”

However, even those decision makers rely on research from their staff, and those staff conduct their research online.  I did an informal poll (it was in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day) of 8 engineers between the ages of 28-40 and asked them about which trade publications they read.  The answer was unanimous – “Zero”.  None of them read any trade publications.  If you focus your engineering marketing offline, your reach is shrinking.  

 

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

John

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